When Tottenham told Kevin Stewart that they weren’t going to offer him a contract, that could very well have been that. Although Stewart had done well at Spurs, at Crewe Alexandra (where he had spent a month on loan) and Sheffield United (where he spent some time on a trial) many had enjoyed similar starts to their career only to find it impossible to earn a way back into the professional game once their time at an academy came to a close.
The big difference for Stewart was that he had come across a coach who felt that there was more to him. Alex Inglethorpe had seen him progress through the ranks at Spurs and clearly felt that his former side had made a mistake in letting him go. Recently appointed the head of Liverpool’s academy, Inglethorpe quickly stepped in to offer Stewart a contract.
Eighteen months down the line, Stewart was making his Premier League debut for Liverpool after impressing in a couple of cup outings. His progress was rewarded with a new four year contract and, irrespective of what happens to him at Liverpool, he’s made enough of a name for himself that there will always be someone willing to take a chance on him.
There is no doubt that Stewart has worked hard in order to get to this position. He’s held strong to his self-belief despite not always finding the faith of the managers of clubs where he went on loan and at the same time invested time in improving his game as he made the transition from defence to midfield. His strength of character played a big role for him.
Yet it is also fair to wonder what might have happened if Inglethorpe hadn’t happened to believe so highly. Stewart might well have made a career out of the game yet, given how he seemed to be struggling to get game time at Swindon whilst on loan earlier in the season, there’s every reason to believe that he might have struggled a fair bit to cut out some space for himself.
It all highlights the important role that a coach plays in the life of his players; how he should always fight for the players he believes are worth it. Not everyone has Inglethorpe’s wherewithal to take a player to a Premier League club but that’s not the only route open to a coach. Even talking to other clubs’ coaches and convincing them that a player is worth an opportunity might play a big role in a players’ career.
It is also worth wondering how many players end up being lost to the game simply because they don’t find anyone who believes in them enough. It is an example that proves those who believe that talent always rises to the top are wrong. One only has to look at Harry Kane for an example of this. Kane had done well on loan but Spurs seemed reluctant to give him an opportunity.
Then along came Tim Sherwood – a coach who had worked with him in the youth level – to give him the opportunity that he was looking for and that his talent needed in order to blossom. If Sherwood hadn’t come along then he might have ended up being sold off to a smaller side.